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Women's health funding issue draws filibuster on budget bill
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Women's health funding issue draws filibuster on budget bill

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The Legislature spent more than eight hours Wednesday debating the state budget into the evening, turning away one amendment that would have restored money to a Department of Roads fund and failing to reach a compromise on funding for Title X women's health services.

Speaker Jim Scheer told senators as 9 p.m. approached they'd had ample opportunity to try to discuss the bill (LB327), but the debate had not been fruitful for development of good legislation. 

"I'm hoping in the future that we will take our duties seriously," he said. "This is the main-line budget. ... I know a great many of you were dismayed that we didn't get an opportunity to actually discuss this bill."

The Legislature should have spent the eight hours talking about the depth and details of the budget that the Appropriations Committee put together over more than three months, he said. 

"This is the most-important bill we will have in front of us this year," he said. 

He stopped debate with a 42-6 cloture vote, then senators voted 36-1 to advance the bill. 

Lawmakers on either side of the Title X funding issue will be expected to get together before the bill comes back for further debate to reach a compromise, he said. 

"That doesn't mean that everything in the bill is going to be agreeable to everyone," he said. 

Early in the afternoon, some senators expressed concern that wording in the bill regarding funding for Title X women's health services offered at community clinics could result in 15,000 to 30,000 fewer people having access to family planning and women's health services. 

Some Appropriations Committee members said the wording change came late in their deliberations and they didn't fully understand the effect it would have on the funding of clinics. 

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"This proposal never had a hearing," said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. "It's a policy change in the budget. And the budget is supposed to be a funding mechanism, not a policy mechanism." 

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said it plainly was an attempt to stop funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. 

The issue surfaces periodically, Schumacher said. And this time it surfaced in the budget, rather than through a bill. 

Another time it surfaced was in 2006, when then-Sen. Mike Foley filed an amendment to the budget that would have changed a traditional bid process, and as a result limited funding to Planned Parenthood and other family-planning clinics that offer abortion referrals and information. 

The Legislature didn't adopt the amendment in 2006, in part because some senators were upset that Foley wasn't more honest about his reasons for trying to change how state dollars were distributed, according to news reports. 

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said she has two amendments to file on the bill that would ensure that all the clinics that have been funded in the past will be funded again, and that the Department of Health and Human Services could not withhold some or all of the $1.3 million in funding for reimbursement for women's health services.

By evening, she said, senators were beginning to hear from their constituents that the clinics and the services they offer are important to women and to men in their districts. 

Earlier in the day, an amendment that would have restored $15 million of $30 million that the Appropriations Committee proposed taking from the Highway Cash Fund failed on a 20-27 vote. 

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, who introduced the amendment, said motor fuel tax receipts should not be diverted to purposes other than highways and infrastructure. It sets a precedent and slows road construction, he said.

The Appropriations Committee also learned mid-afternoon that the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board had lowered projected tax collections for this year and for the 2017-19 budget years by a total of $55 million. 

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner said that will cause another hurdle for the committee to have to come up with that much more money to balance the budget.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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